What would the impact of an avian flu epidemic on financial markets? Jill Treanor reports in today's Guardian that the City is to spend six weeks answering bird flu alarm:
A dead swan was enough to raise fears of bird flu ripping through Britain. The prospect of a sick bird contaminating humans is being taken so seriously that for six weeks this year the City will practise how it would cope with such a disaster.
The length of the exercise will be unprecedented for the City, which is more accustomed to preparing for terrorist attacks or an energy crisis.
Every Friday for six weeks starting on October 13, more than 60 organisations in the City will be asked to react to a new scenario about a pretend bird flu pandemic. The exercise will end on November 24, by which time the authorities hope to know how the City would cope with reduced staffing levels and the knock-on effect this might have on essential services such as transport, power and telecoms.
The event is being run by the tripartite authorities - the Bank of England, Financial Services Authority and the Treasury - which simulate a disaster every year. Last year was billed as the world's biggest ever business endurance exercise as it included more than 80 firms. Whereas it lasted a day, this year's event is scheduled to run for six weeks.
"The overall objective for the authorities is to improve their own and the sector's preparedness by providing an opportunity to review, test and update plans for managing a pandemic threat," the three authorities said.
The FSA has already asked insurance companies about their ability to withstand a deluge of claims on life insurance policies in the event of a bird flu pandemic. Last year the City regulator also asked financial firms to prepare plans to continue operating in the event of their staff being struck by the flu after warnings that 10% of personnel could be off work for three months.
The effectiveness of those plans is likely to be tested by this year's exercise in disaster planning. Though the authorities will not give public updates on the exercise while it is under way, it plans to publish a report once it has finished.